All posts by Bobby Hellard

Microsoft releases new security controls for multi-cloud customers

Bobby Hellard

25 Feb, 2022

Microsoft has unloaded a range of new security controls for multi-cloud customers that include updates to its Defender for Cloud platform and the first service to come from its CloudKnox acquisition.

The first of the new capabilities is a change to Microsoft Defender for Cloud which is aimed at multi-cloud customers that have Google Cloud services.

Defender for Cloud, which was announced at last year’s Ignite conference, is a security posture management console that identifies configuration weaknesses across other providers’ services. And, with the addition of Google Cloud, Microsoft says it is now the only cloud provider to offer a “native” multi-cloud protection service for the top three platforms (Google Cloud, AWS and Azure).

Support for Google Cloud will come with a simplified onboarding experience, according to Microsoft. This will feature more than 80 “out-of-the-box” recommendations for users to secure their environments. It will include a central “multi-cloud view” that lets users see and compare compliance status against critical benchmarks, such as the Center of Internet Security (CIS).

The next capability comes from last year’s acquisition of cloud infrastructure management firm CloudKnox and deals with permission management. Microsoft is launching a public preview of ‘CloudKnox Permissions Management’, which will give companies “complete visibility” into user and workload identities across the cloud services. This will be largely undertaken by automated features and machine learning-powered monitoring functions.

There are also new functions for Microsoft Sentinel, which is another cloud-native platform that deploys AI to analyse large data sets for security issues. The services will have new basic logs, which will see it sift through high volumes of data and find “low-visibility” threats, according to Microsoft.

This is in addition to new archiving functions that extends data retention to seven years, instead of the current two, and also new search functions for security analysts.

Microsoft is also extending its Azure Active Directory beyond its core capabilities by adding safeguards for workload identities. And, the tech giant has also announced a new secure payment processing function for Azure Payment HSM, which is a public preview.

Kyndryl and AWS partner to create a centre of excellence for cloud customers

Bobby Hellard

23 Feb, 2022

Kyndryl has signed a cloud partnership with Amazon Web Services (AWS) to offer joint consultancy on cloud workloads.

IBM’s former infrastructure unit has also confirmed that it will use AWS as one of its preferred cloud providers for its own internal workloads. 

The partnership will focus on building a global practice for AWS skills, services and expertise to deliver a “best-in-class” customer experience. This will include an AWS Cloud Center of Excellence (CCOE) where customers will be able to access services that support mission-critical infrastructure, new technologies, and applications that work across workflows and industries.

With the Global Center of Excellence, Kyndryl said it will be able to optimise customer migration journey’s with AWS technology.

The partnership will also deal with VMware workloads on AWS, with skilled practitioners from all three companies delivering deep expertise for custom services. AWS already has an extensive partnership with AWS, but the new deal with Kyndryl will help to boost any existing customer investments on VMware. 

“Our ability to freely explore and unleash the combined benefits of AWS cloud services with Kyndryl’s deep industry-specific managed services and expertise will provide an unprecedented level of knowledge and innovation,” said Martin Schroeter, CEO of Kyndryl. “Together, we will invest in enhancing Kyndryl’s expertise in AWS to help companies modernise, innovate, and compete.”

 This is the latest in a string of cloud-based announcements Kyndryl has made since its split from IBM. The company now has deals in place with the three biggest cloud providers – AWS, Microsoft and Google Cloud – which it believes will enable it to tap into an estimated $150 billion from the IT services market by 2025.
All of these deals would not have been possible, according to the company, had it still been a part of IBM, with the spilt allowing it to play an active role in the $90 billion cloud services market. 

Chrome OS Flex turns old PCs and Macs into Chromebooks

Bobby Hellard

16 Feb, 2022

Google has announced “early access” to a new version of its Chrome operating system that works on older PCs and Macs. 

Chrome OS Flex is designed for businesses and educational institutions that want to deploy a universal operating system without having to splash out on new hardware. 

The new OS can be installed on any PC and Mac within minutes, according to Google, which adds that it should look and feel identical to the traditional Chrome OS one would find on a Chromebook as it’s built from the same codebase. However, it notes that some features may be dependent on the age of the hardware, though didn’t specify which. 

The technology behind Chrome OS Flex appears to have come from a recent Google acquisition. Neverware, which the tech giant bought at the end of 2020, previously sold the CloudReady service which let users convert old PCs into Chrome OS. Google said that it has been integrating “the benefits of CloudReady into a new version of Chrome OS”. 

Google says Chrome OS Flex will allow IT departments to manage all their machines just like any other Chrome OS hardware. All devices can be managed through Google’s Admin Console, with IT departments able to deploy specific software installs. 

The operating system also comes with built-in security tools, such as sandboxing technology to eliminate the need for antivirus software and IT controls to prevent data loss on lost or stolen devices. 

How to install Chrome OS Flex

To try Chrome OS Flex, users will need to go to the Chrome Enterprise website and register. A USB drive is all they you need and it should only take a few minutes to set up on a PC or Mac device. 

From there, users need to follow three steps: create a bootable Chrome OS Flex USB drive to test it out prior to installation. Form there, users can install the OS and fully replace the existing operating system, and the USB drive can also be also used to deploy the OS to more devices on your organisation’s network. 

AWS shakes off outages with 40% surge in revenue

Bobby Hellard

4 Feb, 2022

Amazon Web Services (AWS) reported 40% revenue growth year-on-year despite enduring a quarter marred by outages. 

The cloud arm of Amazon generated $17.8 billion in the fourth quarter of 2021, once again boosting the overall earnings of its parent company. 

The online retail giant reported profits of $14.32 billion on Thursday with sales up 24%. However, almost 13% of Amazon’s total revenue came from AWS and 153% of its overall operating income has been attributed to cloud services. 

“On the growth rate, I think it’s a combination of things. We’ve been adding resources in sales and marketing over the last two years, and that is starting to pay off,” Brian Olsavsky, Amazon’s finance chief, said during a conference call with analysts.

Its continued growth is all the more impressive considering the service was shaken by major outages over the fourth quarter. Each became headline news around the world because they the dominance of AWS and the risks associated with having so many services reliant on a single cloud vendor. 

However, while AWS still accounts for a third of the worldwide market it should be looking over its shoulder at the “truly impressive growth” of Microsoft and Google Cloud, according to SRG Research’s chief analyst John Dale.

“It has taken Microsoft 18 quarters to double its market share, which has now passed the 21% mark,” Dale told IT Pro. “Despite a relatively late start, Google too is now accelerating the pace of its cloud activities. Its market share remains at less than half that of Microsoft, but it continues to post some strong growth numbers.” 
While Google Cloud is mopping up market share, the service is still some way off profitability, with the business posting a loss of  $3.1 billion for 2021.

Google Cloud lost $3.1 billion in 2021

Bobby Hellard

2 Feb, 2022

Google’s cloud division reported another year of losses, despite extending the life of its hardware by a further 12 months. 

The cloud giant lost $890 million in the fourth quarter of 2021 and $3.1 billion over the entire year, according to financial results posted by its parent company, Alphabet. 

Last year Google extended the operational lifespan of its cloud servers from three to four years in a bid to offset some costs. While the switch saved the company $3.6 billion in reduced depreciation expenses and brought in a $2 billion net income increase, it still wasn’t enough to make the tech giant’s cloud arm profitable. 

Cloud losses were relatively minor compared to Alphabet’s overall financial outlook; the company reported record-breaking revenues of $257 billion for 2021, a 41% year-on-year increase. The company also reported Q4 revenue of $75.3 billion, which is a 32% increase compared to 2020. 

“Q4 saw ongoing strong growth in our advertising business, which helped millions of businesses thrive and find new customers, a quarterly sales record for our Pixel phones despite supply constraints, and our Cloud business continuing to grow strongly,” Alphabet and Google CEO Sundar Pichai said.

Alphabet doesn’t usually reveal specific financial or sales information when it comes to its hardware, or even for its Android mobile operating system, and typically bundles them into a category listed as “Google other”. This category brought in $8.16 billion of revenue for the fourth quarter, and it is worth pointing out that its latest Pixel handsets – Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro – both went on sale just before.  

2021 was the first time Alphabet surpassed $200 billion in revenue, pulling in $258 billion, which is almost triple what it reported in 2016 ($90 billion).

Gmail’s new ‘integrated view’ layout will become default in April

Bobby Hellard

2 Feb, 2022

Google has announced a new Gmail layout that changes how Chat, Meet and Spaces are integrated with the service. 

The new ‘integrated view’ makes it so that the messaging apps are no longer little windows floating alongside emails by giving each one its own screen, accessed via larger buttons on the left-hand side. 

 All Google Workspace users – except those on Workspace Essentials – will be moved to the new interface. Users can choose to switch to this new look on 8 February, with an option to switch back still available.

However, the new layout will become the default option by April and, eventually, the only option by the end of the second quarter of 2022. 

With the application buttons tucked away to the left, the changes give Gmail a similar look to Microsoft’s Outlook. The new app position removes the need for users to switch between tabs or windows in order to use Chat or Meets because they can now use them directly in the same browser window.


There will also be notification bubbles for each app and, soon, Google will also offer a ‘unified’ search function so that it shows results from all integrated applications. 

The refreshed interface is a win for those that like data density and having all their work apps in one place. However, it could be a little confusing having multiple app notifications all going off in one window, potentially adding more stress to those looking to focus on one task at a time. 

Whether the changes are agreeable or not, users may have suspected they were coming, given the changes Google has made to Workspace (formally G Suite) during the pandemic. The company has sought to make its platform more conducive to hybrid and remote working by tweaking the way various elements work with one another, with the rebrand to Workspace, itself, also a nod to greater integration and ease of use.

Meta teams with Nvidia to build the ‘world’s fastest’ AI supercomputer

Bobby Hellard

25 Jan, 2022

Meta has announced that it’s building the “world’s fastest” AI supercomputer as part of its plans to build a virtual metaverse

The AI Research SuperCluster (RSC), which Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg claims is already the fifth-fastest AI supercomputer in the world, uses Nvidia’s DGX A100 system and is already training new models to advance artificial intelligence capabilities. According to early Meta benchmarks, RSC can train large natural-language processing (NLP) models three times faster and run computer vision jobs 20 times faster than its previous systems. 

The project is expected to be fully constructed midway through the year and will add various AI-based features to Meta’s platforms, including its proposed metaverse. According to a blog post from Zuckerberg, the company aims to use the RSC to train AI models to advance fields such as NLP and image enhancement.

More specifically, Meta hopes to generate models that can work across multiple languages, analyse text, images and video simultaneously, and also develop augmented reality tools.

Key use cases will include the identification of harmful content and the ability to translate multiple languages of audio, in real-time from large groups of people, which appears to be a Metaverse-specific use case.  

The RSC currently uses 760 Nvidia DGX A100 systems as its computer nodes and these pack a total of 6,080 A100 GPUs onto a Nvidia Quantum network said to deliver 1,896 petaflops of performance. Speed was also shown in the installation, with the RCS taking just 18 months to go from idea to fully working supercomputer, according to Nvidia. 

The second phase of the project, which begins later in the year, will expand the RSC to 16,000 GPUs, which Meta suggests will deliver 5 exaflops of “mixed precision AI performance”. This will be buoyed by further plans to expand RSC’s storage systems so that it can deliver up to an exabyte of data at 16 terabytes per second. 

This is the second time Meta has partnered with Nvidia for research infrastructure, with a project conducted in 2017, also for the advancement of AI. 

Applications open for government’s Help to Grow: Digital scheme

Bobby Hellard

20 Jan, 2022

The UK government has opened an online scheme that offers discounts for small businesses and startups looking to adopt digital services.

The Help to Grow: Digital website launched on Thursday with a number of ‘approved’ software service packages and a range of video guides already available.

Small businesses can get discounts of up to £5,000 off the retail price for a selection of customer relationship management (CRM) and accounting services.

Approved CRM providers include UK-based companies Zemplify, Swiftcase, and Gold-Vision, while accounting deals are provided by Sage, Quickbooks, and a number of smaller British providers.

The government has also said that additional software categories will be available soon, but has only confirmed e-commerce so far.

The scheme was pitched as part of chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spring budget in 2021 as a response to the pandemic and the increased uptake of online and digital software. It’s aimed at SMBs and startups that are at least 12 months old and have between 5 and 249 employees.

Eligible businesses must also be purchasing the approved software for the first time, with the financial discount only covering 12-months worth of product costs (exclusive of VAT).

The scheme can be accessed through a government portal where applicants can search and compare all the ‘approved’ services. A tool has also been provided to help less experienced applicants find out what services they could use, although this does require handing over additional business information, such as how they typically engage with customers and the size of their IT teams.

Those that are new to digital tools can also browse a library of video explainers and tutorials that walk them through various elements of software adoption and how businesses can best make use of them. It also includes explainers on CRM software and guides to finding out which products are best, as well as a complete list of the ‘approved’ providers.

Google Drive accounted for the most malware downloads in 2021

Bobby Hellard

12 Jan, 2022

Google Drive accounted for the most malware downloads in 2021, taking the top spot from Microsoft OneDrive.

The cloud storage service accounted for 37% of all malicious downloads last year, according to the January edition of Netskope’s Cloud and Threat report. 

CloudPro contacted Google, Microsoft and Amazon for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication. 

Netskope, a US-based cyber security provider, noted that cloud storage apps gained even greater adoption in 2021, with 79% of customers analysed using at least one cloud storage app, which is up from 71% in 2020. The number of cloud storage apps in use also rose, with organisations with 500 to 2,000 employees using 39 different cloud storage apps last year.

What’s more, cloud-delivered malware is now more prevalent than variants are downloaded via the web. In 2021, cloud app malware accounted for 66% of all malware downloads, up from 46% at the start of 2020. 

Aside from its increasing popularity, there are other reasons why Drive surpassed other services when it came to malware downloads, according to Netskope. For example, the Emotet botnet that used Box to deliver malicious Office document payloads was taken down early in 2021 but ended up inspiring hackers to use Google Drive to share malicious Office documents.

“The increasing popularity of cloud apps has given rise to three types of abuse described in this report: attackers trying to gain access to victim cloud apps, attackers abusing cloud apps to deliver malware, and insiders using cloud apps for data exfiltration,” Netskope Threat Labs threat research director Ray Canzanese said. 

“The report serves as a reminder that the same apps that you use for legitimate purposes will be attacked and abused. Locking down cloud apps can help to prevent attackers from infiltrating them, while scanning for incoming threats and outgoing data can help block malware downloads and data exfiltration.”

Financial regulators concerned about reliance on AWS, Azure and Google Cloud

Bobby Hellard

10 Jan, 2022

UK financial regulators are reportedly concerned about the sector’s reliance on a subset of cloud computing providers that leaves banks vulnerable to service outages and hacks. 

The Prudential Regulation Authority (PRA) is said to be exploring ways to access more data from the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Google, according to the Financial Times.

Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud are often listed as the three biggest providers in the world, with each company increasingly active in the financial sector.

All three have made extensive deals with UK banks in recent years, offering services to reduce IT costs by migrating firms away from on-premise to the cloud, where they can capitalise on new technologies such as AI.  

The use of cloud computing by UK banks is covered under the PRA’s operational resilience framework, however, the use of just a few larger companies is causing concern, particularly given recent outages

While the PRA declined to confirm the FT‘s report, a source with knowledge of the situation told IT Pro financial regulators in the UK are now looking at ways to tackle the financial system’s increasing cloud service providers, which could see the introduction of additional policy measures, some requiring legislative change. 

The PRA is a part of the Bank of England (BoE), which has also expressed concern in this area; in July 2021, the BoE warned that UK banks moving more and more of their administration and account online “could pose a risk to financial stability”. It also argued that the market for cloud services was highly concentrated with AWS, Microsoft and Google all enjoying heavy dominance. 

Sections of the UK’s government have also questioned how much it depends on the likes of AWS. In February 2021, Conservative life peer Lord Holmes said that AWS represented “the latest iteration of the biggest player”, adding that in regards to cloud procurement, it was being allowed to “eat the largest piece of pie”.